A University of Louisville study at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center has found excellent initial results in an experimental breast cancer treatment that allows early stage breast cancer patients to receive radiation treatments once a week for five weeks as opposed to the more traditional five days a week for five weeks course of treatment.
Dr. Anthony Dragun, radiation oncologist at the University of Louisville’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center, pioneered the work after a research study two years ago found that a third of Kentucky women with early stage breast cancer didn’t get recommended radiation treatments after a lumpectomy.
Among those least likely to get the critical follow-up radiation were the elderly, African Americans and women in rural areas, including the Appalachian region of the state. Women who did not get the radiation were 60% more likely to die during the time they were studied.
Dr. Dragun took this earlier research one step farther in an effort to address these treatment disparities by piloting a study whereby the number of radiation treatments required was decreased but intensified, meaning patients had to manage less frequent visits.
While the women got more radiation in the once- a-week treatments than they would if they received daily treatments, they received less radiation during the overall five-week course of treatment. In his study and previous studies, the women reported similar levels of side effects with the weekly dose as those getting radiation five days a week.
If the weekly regimens do become more common, they could be particularly helpful in such places as Kentucky, said Dragun, because it’s a largely rural state beset by doctor shortages, high levels of poverty and cancer disparities.
The plan has the potential to help all early stage breast cancer patients who need radiation. Less frequent treatments would be a boon to any woman juggling work and child-rearing.
“Breast cancer often strikes women in the prime of their lives,” Dragun said. “We think it’s going to just benefit everybody.”
The clinical trial was accepted for publication in the “International Journal of Radiation Oncology” in October of 2012. Click for the full study.